Plastic bottles

New report urges UK to reduce plastic consumption

Global average consumption of short-life plastic per person per year is 20.9 kg, compared to 31.1 kg in the UK
03 August 2023 , Nicola Smith

UK is expected to reach ‘Plastic Overshoot Day’ on 17th November 2023, as government delays plans to make producers responsible for products until the end of their life

Littered or poorly disposed short life plastic waste in the UK is estimated to total more than 256,000 tonnes by the end of this year, according to new research by EA Earth Action.

The Swiss-based research consultancy’s report specifically focuses on short life plastic waste originating from solid waste management systems and encompassing plastic packaging and single use plastics.

The global average consumption of short-life plastic per person per year is 20.9 kilograms, but the average plastic consumption per capita in the UK is 31.1 kilograms.

EA Earth Action has established 10 country archetypes which includes tailored policy recommendations for every country in the world. The UK is categorised as a ‘Transactor’ – a wealth country that exports and imports a lot of waste, usually from neighbouring countries. Policy recommendations include speeding up the transition to circular systems and reducing plastic consumption.

Sarah Perreard, Co-CEO and Stakeholder Engagement Lead, EA Earth Action said: “If the UK wants to show real leadership on this issue, it must prioritise significantly reducing its plastic consumption, implement effective reusable packaging schemes, and join the 13 European countries that have already introduced a functioning and effective Deposit Return Scheme.”

A ban on some single-use plastics will be introduced by the UK government in October 2023, while the UK is also part of the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, pledged to end plastic pollution by 2040.

But the total short life plastic consumption in the UK in 2023 already amounts to more than two million tonnes of waste. This translates to almost 60,000 tonnes of microplastics released in waterways, and more than 1,500 tonnes of chemical additives which can have harmful impacts on ecosystems and human health.

Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) is urging further action, calling on the producers of virgin plastic and plastic products to cut the unnecessary plastic they produce ­– halting the production of plastic at source.

“This means producers of plastic can continue to pollute without thought or pressure on their pockets for another two years.” 

Louise Reddy, Policy Officer, SAS says that cutting plastic production is essential. “That is why we’re calling for the government to deliver promises for schemes such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that force producers to be responsible for products until the end of their life.” She says this would put the onus on producers, not consumers, to pay the price for plastic pollution.

The government had announced plans to deliver ERP later in the year, but has recently announced that it will be delayed until October 2025, using the additional year to ‘reduce the costs of implementation wherever possible’. But Reddy said, “This means producers of plastic can continue to pollute without thought or pressure on their pockets for another two years.” 

Global Plastic Overshoot Day took place on 28 July 2023 – the date when the total amount of plastic waste produced internationally outweighs global efforts to manage it – while the UK is predicted to experience its own ‘Plastic Overshoot Day’ on 17th November 2023.

John Duncan, Global Initiative Lead, WWF said: “We cannot simply keep producing plastic, much of it unnecessary, without addressing the significant costs that the plastic pollution crisis imposes on the planet.

“While improving global waste management capabilities will help, we need to focus our efforts on upstream reduction and design of the system, which is where the biggest opportunities lie.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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